Thursday, December 23, 2010

Words that suddenly sound weird

For examples of my habitual train of thought about language and how my brain is slowly able to put the pieces together, over a couple of days, I kept track of words that stood out for me.

At a café, a sign saying service is only at the “comptoir.” Comptoir, a word I associated with banks and accounting. A compte is an account. So why at a restaurant? And then, of course, the “counter.” Same deal: account, counter. Just the same in English. Only it doesn’t sound weird to me at all in English because
I never made that connection.

Stores here have rayons or departments (rayon not a type of fabric). Then I get to thinking about the word Department Store. I guess it comes from when stores used to specialize in one sort of thing, and a bigger store, with many different sections, was a department store. It is not a place that sells departments.

Searching the fabric stores in Paris I realize what I am interested in is the beads and the buttons, or what I discover is called “mercier.” In the US, it would be called “notions.” Try explaining that one.

After ordering two French textbooks for Rees, I realize that “commander” does not mean to abruptly tell someone what to do. It simply means “to order.” It’s the same! But “command” sounds so much harsher than “order.” And then how to explain ordering a room. It’s all connected, but tricky. You need to know the connotations.

And there is quartier, or section. In English "quarter" can be housing, a fourth part of something, or a coin.

A journal is a daily paper. Day/jour, that's where it comes from. Duh!

And this thing in yoga class that sounds like "onches" is actually "hanches," or hips, those things that you might sit on when you are being lazy out in the old west. I think we actually add a "u" and make it "haunches."

A store I visited that had a whole aisle of the little shop signs with changeable clocks for opening and closing times and the perfect red jewelry boxes for my necklaces, did not, I found out, sell to “particuliers.” Particulers? Turns out that’s me. Darn. It means an individual, the opposite of a collective or a wholesaler.

An early noun I came across was an “avoir.” From the verb “to have.” The context was a store giving me an “avoir.” And there seemed to be very few synonyms for this noun about having. It turns out it means store credit, like a gift card.

And homework is called “devoir” or duty, from the verb “to have to.”

I saw a transcription of "Friends" (the TV series, no it is not called "Amis" it is called "Friends") and they were always talking about whether two people would “sorti ensemble.” Exit together. No, wait, “go out together.” What a funny expression, but it’s exactly the same!

We live on the fourth floor. Now that is easy for me to say, but I think that –th fl- combo would trip up a lot of non English speakers.

I was hopeless with vowels, double letters, and spelling before. Sucess here, success there, sujet, subject, centre, center. Now I am forever confused.

My brain hurts from thinking like this…but it does keep the neurons abuzzing…

1 comment:

Mom said...

"Mercier" is probably a cognate of the English word, "mercerize" which is a process that keeps cotton (threads, fabrics) from shrinking. But that doesn't seem to take us further in relating it to "notions" which is a strange word, too.

On the other hand, is it related to "merci"? (Which is related to "mercy" or an unsolicited, unearned gift.)

My mind also runs along these wordy paths, often in circles or dead-ends (or "cul-de-sacs".)